Putting the public into public parks

On Sunday we made our annual trek to Wapato to pick tomatoes and peppers to bring home for canning. Timing (and my seven-year-old daughter) didn’t permit stopping at any wineries, or my favorite brewery, Grant’s, which alas, is closed on Sundays. But the highlight of the day is always the picnic that follows the picking.

Every year we meet friends at Yakima Sportsman State Park, for an extravagant spread of Italian meats and cheeses and breads, topped off with freshly picked produce. The tomatoes should require no description, but just imagine the prosciutto and melon, when the melon is still warm from the fields.

Yakima Sportsman is an oasis along the Yakima river, in an otherwise desert area. It is lush and green, with generous shade provided by a variety of deciduous trees. And its facilities are top-notch, allowing us effete city-folk to wash up after a morning in the fields.

In past years, the park would be teeming with families enjoying the Sunday afternoon, many of them the farm workers that fuel the local agricultural economy. (Our U-Pick tomatoes were $0.10/lb, so you get an idea of the value of labor.)

But last Sunday, like in recent years, we’ve had the park to ourselves.

It was 85 degrees and sunny, and yet the park was deserted. No boisterous BBQs, no music blaring from boom boxes… and apart from my daughter, no hoards of screaming children chasing the ducks and geese away from the picnic tables.

The park’s abandonment can be traced back to the imposition of parking fees, currently $5 per vehicle (discounted from the usual $7.) The campgrounds, which always required a fee, still appear to be used, but apart from our own cars, the day-parking lot was empty.

Now I can afford the fee, although $5 for a two-hour visit is a bit insulting after paying 12 bucks for a year’s worth of tomatoes. But clearly, many of the families who used to share the park with us, cannot.

I blame Tim Eyman, and the myopic voters who have supported his tax cutting initiatives.

Yakima Sportsman has become the definition of “penny-wise and pound-foolish” — a wonderful park maintained by taxpayers, for the use of the privileged few. By saving tax dollars, it has become a waste of tax dollars, for what is the use of a public park that nobody uses?

Tim and I (especially Tim) can afford an extra “user fee” here and there, but the quality of life in Washington state is slowly dying a death by a thousands cuts. Reduced library hours, deferred road maintenance, increased class sizes, fire and EMS that fails to keep up with population growth, a growing backlog in the courts… the impact of our perpetual budget crisis is spread so thin across so many services that it almost seems imperceptible.

Almost.

There is a reason why Eyman has failed to qualify a tax-cutting initiative for the ballot two years running (and no, I-892 doesn’t count.) Voters understand that you don’t get something for nothing, and they see that many state and local agencies have already cut to the bone.

The vast majority of voters reject Tim’s radical libertarian vision. We don’t want to privatize public infrastructure. We don’t want access to essential services determined solely by market forces.

And we don’t want to exclude the public from our public parks.

Comments

  1. 1

    matt spews:

    It is sad that if I wanted to go to a park and take a nice walk I would have to pay for it, I thought parks were meant to be enjoyed be all not just who can fork over the money to get in.

  2. 2

    Andrew spews:

    Absolutely. That is why we fight against Eyman. It’s a personal story, just like when our Redmond Pool was almost going to close because of budget cuts from Eyman initiatives. Luckily, we saved it. Was every community so lucky? Of course not.

  3. 3

    DamnageD spews:

    Personally,

    Public = public, not $$$. So being the broke punk a$$ i am. i dont pay! Leave paper on my windowshild and i’ll use it to start a camp fire.

    I cannot afford the expense (and yes, 5 bucks here and there becomes a big deal) whenever I want to enjoy the “public” spaces. I think the founding fathers had something else in mind then fees imposed for open spaces….

    BTW…wheres this tomato place, that sounds AWESOME!!

  4. 4

    Goldy spews:

    This year we picked at Garcia’s in Wapato, on Lateral A. But I think next year we may try Benedicto’s, down the road, first. It was pricier, but the quality seemed better… particularly the peppers.